Archive for the ‘Faminess’ Category

‘The Comcast Evening News’

Wednesday, May 16th, 2012

Walter Cronkite brought us the evening news for decades; we watched in awe. Uncle Walter packaged stories of import that made tens of millions stop, sit, lean forward, and grab it in. There was never a doubt that Cronkite was in charge.

These days we have Brian Williams presenting segments that are for the most part neatly packaged promos with a tie-in to Universal and Comcast. NBC’s daddy has a huge portfolio of lower-rated cable networks that Comcast feels must be showcased on the network news. These include the Weather Channel, NBC Sports Net, USA Network, Cloo, and even a new African American storytelling site (theGrio), all of which are mentioned in more than half of what’s covered in News With Brian Williams (not including the previews of NBC’s Dateline).

Where a sacred shroud of church and state existed during Cronkite’s day — entertainment programming knew nothing about the news division and vice versa — has gone by the wayside thanks to new-fashioned desperation in the form of memos from the TV gods.

Williams keeps losing his cred as he brings on “experts” from various Comcast holdings — see early May’s letter to the Justice Department about Comcast by Sen. Franken — and hypes the latest Universal movie in segments, wincing all the while. Like most wage earners Williams must believe he’s imminently replaceable and the hardworking chap can still see skid marks where Tom Brokaw was pushed out. He probably thinks they can wind up a new anchor via the hype machine called “NBC.”

Yes, network advertisers are mentioned in the news all the time. (It’s comical when a sanctimonious reporters act as though that never happens.) But corporate entities make news and many of the giants are solvent enough to run ads too. As for the giggly morning shows, these have been promoting primetime programming with gusto between stories about menopause since J. Fred Muggs — the chimp — hosted Today in the ’50s.

But a well-preserved, ultimately brief, news show has a duty not to produce three segments about USA Network’s airing a 50th anniversary telecast of To Kill A Mockingbird; or do nightly storm stories right after its parent buys the Weather Channel; or hype meaningless sports hours to help low-rated NBC Sports Network. These aren’t reasons to use 22 measly minutes allotted for informational programming.

And Williams is no innocent. He joyfully previews news-free interviews coming up on his own Rock Center With Brian Williams, NBC’s “Dateline Lite” that keeps getting new time slots searching for viewers (Monday, Wednesday, Friday–now off the air during May Sweeps). NBC This self-promotional NBC Gone Wild is so out of control that last month Weekend Evening News host Lester Holt ran five minutes of a commencement address he gave at Pepperdine U!

If the network news producers act like weaselly pegs in oversized conglomerated wheels while the bosses dictate all movements then it’s soon going to be hard to tell what is news from what is a commercial for Comcast.

Watching actual ads on the evening news (i.e., must-pee pills for erectile dysfunction or overactive bladders) prove there isn’t a lot of demand to advertise. So cancel the evening news, already, and produce 30 minutes of promos of shows on Comcast properties rather than pretending 6:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. is news. This new show is exactly what E! Entertainment Television — NBC’s closest sister — does with ease.

Comcast owns or co-owns more than 25 networks and sites — iVillage, A&E, History, Oxygen, Golf Channel and DailyCandy to start — and many were smart investments. But ripping apart the proud peacock when NBC News has better ratings than its weak nighttime lineup is sure to lessen Comcast’s value. What’s bad for viewers is bad for shareholders.

It’s likely “creatives” like Williams and Holt have built enough goodwill within NBC to ignore the baser objectives of their bosses. I remember how, after Seinfeld, Julia Louis-Dreyfus talked to the media about her new show Watching Ellie. She said she refused to allow network executives on the set. The quick-witted star snorted: “As if any notes from the network has ever helped a show.”
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The Inanity of Fame & The Death of Gerry Rafferty

Sunday, January 9th, 2011

It’s so damn sad to think of anyone spending years in a room, depressed and drinking and hoping for a better life. But it’s worse when it is someone you thought “had it all.” Reading about the death of Gerry Rafferty, whom you had to know if you turned on a radio once in the late ’70s, was like poring over the news of someone Dickens might have conjured up. And once again proves that being famous, rich, or beloved by millions is hardly the life that we think it is.

Rafferty, who passed on January 4 at age 63 from alcoholism that had ravaged his liver, was one-half of the infamous duo Stealers Wheel, whose anthem “Stuck In The Middle With You” was sung in the manner of a Dylan song because the duo was mocking how Mr. Dylan made everything folky sound so damn serious (”Clowns to the left of me /Jokers to the right”). But if you watch the myriad YouTube videos of young Gerry, with his dark glasses and his unsmiling mouth, you get the sense that being in the limelight was hardly what he wanted to happen.

Rafferty defined multi-talented: a fascinating lyricist, musical savant who wrote relevant and often sad stories about those around him. Gerry Rafferty was everything nearly all of today’s pop stars aren’t (do you need a list?). On that note, I think a lot of us wander by street musicians who aren’t courted by conglomerate labels and think “Man, I hope you are going to make it big one day.” But what if he doesn’t? What if that isn’t the case and the stoop is his big, happy, momentous break?

I found out last night that Rafferty released a comeback CD in 2009–more than a dozen gorgeous songs that I, a well-informed media comber, didn’t even know existed. When he was interviewed a few years back at his home in Scotland, he explained that his slight outpouring over the years (a few songs, a few vocals, producing one record) was wholly due to his depressive state. It turned out that being famous and pushed/prodded/pumped for more (and Stealer writes about it in the song “Star”) was light years from a reality he’d imagined. And he didn’t want any of it.

This wasn’t a half-assed “George Michael”-style moaning. He didn’t publicly declare how fame made his life bad, boo-hoo. It was more complicated–and this is where I learned about Rafferty’s Dickensian life: In interviews for his 2009 comeback–ironically titled “Life Goes On”–the musician declared that his life started out a mess (a drunk father who beat him and his mother), moved into the phase where he fought with band members until he was forbidden to record solo (hello, lawyers), and then released “Baker Street,” a single that brought him to superfame and so defined 1978 for tens of millions that till death he continued to make $125k a year from it alone. (Rafferty wasn’t living on the streets.)

He recorded for several more years after the success of his first LP, then stopped; got married and subsequently divorced; and tried like hell to fight his way back into art by recording songs that, like the fast-paced “Right Down The Line” had been kept in people’s hearts and playlists because they simply too good, and never seemed dated.

I didn’t know what happened to Rafferty until now; posts like this one appear when the Twittersphere spends more than a day spitting out knowledge and wishes about a singer most of us didn’t think about. But he wasn’t neglected. Tarantino used “Stuck In The Middle” in that big bloody moment inside Reservoir Dogs. And when a Rafferty tune started, whether on Sirius, in a department store, on a DVD, or my Mom’s cassette player, I wondered if there was a Gerry Rafferty out there producing tracks for newbies like so many other 12-hit-wonders after tiring of music business vultures. Yes, Gerry Rafferty was an icon and an idol for many generations; I learned this by browsing the thousand garage-band cover versions of “Baker Street” on every video site imaginable. No, Gerry Rafferty did not have a career during these undefined decades. It appears he was just trying to rise from a stupor.

I am left with a burning question. If he’d had a lesser fame like that of Steve Forbert, who in the 70’s went gold with a single (”Romeo’s Tune” or “Meet Met In The Middle of the Day”), would Rafferty have been able to live like Stevie and record a CD every year, change genres at will–Forbert is a kind of elder statesman in Nashville now–and keep doing what he loved most?

I can hope that would not have been drinking.

[Ending on a happy note: Take a sweet look at how much people adored Gerry Rafferty and watch this 2-minute random short film called Gerry Rafferty Takes Up The Bongos.Rafferty Dead At 63

I’m tweeting about pop culture via @laermer

Gossip Cop: To Protect and Serve Who?

Friday, August 28th, 2009

This is the first of an inane series on one of America

Do You Speech?

Thursday, July 9th, 2009

Speech is the Rosetta Stone of your own image. Master it and you have taken a gigantic step toward people starting to see the best you. And yet, the easiest way to fail is to lack the ability

#twitterfame, and Fame

Monday, June 29th, 2009

Coverage is so easy to get in 2009. There are outlets everywhere, with barriers to public distribution so low that anyone can get their name in some kind of media with minimal effort. Given that “normal” people have learned the tricks of the coverage trade, the time-tested celebrity accident has been rendered useless, because we’ve discovered that accidents happen and ultimately mean nothing.

Around 50 years ago we’d have believed that Frank Sinatra really did beat the snot out of someone pissing him off, because the guy was pissing him off. It’s how Frank rolled. He didn’t do it for notoriety, because he didn


Tuesday, April 28th, 2009


By now, we

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